Sharks volleyball coach wins as coach and player

Malibu High School volleyball coach Derek Saenz was a champ two times over in recent months. Saenz was an assistant coach for the Sunshine Volleyball Club’s 18 Westside squad that won the 18 USA division at the 2022 USA Volleyball Girls 18s Junior National 

Championship in Phoenix on April 24. 

He then laced up his sneakers a month later and was the setter for the team that won the NAGVA Championships on May 29 in Las Vegas. 

Saenz, who coaches the Sharks boys and girls volleyball teams, jokingly said winning the pair of titles makes him feel young again. 

“It makes me feel like what I’m doing is working,” the 39-yeard-old said. “The time I’ve put into coaching, the time I’ve put into maintaining my own ability to play the game. It re-energized my passion for the sport.” 

The Sunshine 18 Westside squad finished atop a division that included 48 club volleyball teams from across the nation. The team went 9-0 in the April 22-24 competition and only lost three of 21 sets. Sunshine 18 Westside downed Capital 18 Adidas from Washington, D.C., 25-18, 14-25, 15-12, in the championship match.

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The squad of 12 is made up of some of the top teenage volleyball players from the Los Angeles area’s west side. Saenz is on the coaching staff with Cari Klein, Perry Klein, and his good friend Francisco Valdez, who is the head coach. 

Saenz, Malibu’s coach since 2018 said the tournament was fun and he enjoys helping the high school players become better at their sport.

“You never want to be the smartest person in the room,” he said. “It’s nice to be with a bunch of highly motivated and talented people.”

“They are so committed to get to the college level,” he said. “Its fun to help them get the rest of the way to what they are trying to do.” 

Sunshine Volleyball, which has teams throughout Southern California, had another championship-winning team also. The Sunshine 18 LA team finished atop the USA Volleyball event’s open division, composed of 47 teams. Saenz’s adult volleyball team, composed of guys from Southern California and Washington, beat a team from San Diego to win the NAGVA championship at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. Saenz, the second oldest player on the team, said throughout the May 27-29 tournament he strove to blend in with his teammates on the court. 

“I didn’t want people to look at me and say, ‘You’re the team sponsor,’” he said. “It was fun and rewarding to get out there and play.” 

The coach said his team had some hiccups the first two days of the tournament because it was their first time playing with each other. In the event’s playoffs, on the last day, the group hit its stride, Saenz said. 

The head Shark was named to the all-tournament team. Saenz, who played volleyball collegiately and still plays in open runs, enjoyed playing volleyball in a competitive environment again.

“Winning is amazing,” he said. “I highly recommend it for anyone but getting out and building relationships in team sports, that was the most fun.” 

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